Project DATA

Created by Haring Center educators, researchers, and graduate students Project DATA (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism) is a groundbreaking, replicable, sustainable, inclusive classroom model for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This program has been replicated by school districts throughout the state of Washington and the rest of the United States.

Project DATA began in 1997 with a model demonstration grant from the Office of Special Education Programs. Ilene Schwartz, Bonnie McBride, Gusty-Lee Boulware, and Susan Sandall, designed a program that blended best practices from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE), and Early Childhood Education (ECE) into a comprehensive, school-based program to meet the needs of children with ASD and their families.

ABA techniques generated positive outcomes for children in the early-and-middle ‘90s before the start of Project DATA, but those previous studies observed children receiving services solely at home, secluding them from their peers. While children improved in many areas, they did not see as high of gains in social skills, or the ability to translate what they learned into more diverse or educational settings. Project DATA aimed to change this by pairing an inclusive preschool classroom, which includes typically developing peers, with an extended-day session where children with ASD learn and practice skills together. Providing support and training to parents and other family members is also an important component of the program.

25 Years:
Project DATA

  • 7 succeeding grants
  • 150 teachers & behavior analysts trained
  • 300 preschoolers positively impacted

Because of this program, children in Project DATA continue to see dramatic increases in social, verbal and motor skills, and they are more likely to enter elementary school in the least restrictive environments possible – for many that means traditional classroom settings. The results of the project were so impactful on students that this research has produced a number of subsequent grants and projects.

In 2001, Project DATA was expanded by Gusty Lee Boulware, Bonnie McBride, Mako Guest, Julie Ashmun, Chris Matsumoto and Ilene Schwartz to include toddlers. Research has shown that the earlier the intervention with ABA services, the better the outcome and the Toddler DATA program is no exception. In 2003, the Haring Center was awarded a $5 million grant to train and develop DATA programs in a number of sites throughout the state. In 2010, Haring Center trainers were awarded a grant to train and consult birth-to-three education providers with Project DATA methods, pioneering this model for children this young.

During its near-25-year history at the EEU, Project DATA has expanded into seven succeeding grants, and trained over 150 teachers and behavior analysts. Most importantly, this project has positively impacted the lives and education of 300 toddlers and preschoolers at the EEU.

Through the vision and work of Ilene, Susan, Bonnie and Gusty-Lee, and many others who have worked in and helped to continue to refine and improve Project DATA, children with ASD are making incredible gains, contributing to their communities, and helping future generations define what it means to be a person with ASD.